When artists allow creepiness to give way to beauty and frenzied combinations of melody and sound, they have produced an intriguing and inviting listening experience. Detroit’s Matthew Dear does so on “Another,” the opener on his Spectral mini-LP, Backstroke. The craftsmanship is such that the subsequent tracks simply must have the same energy or the record will fall flat. Dear is able to capture the intrigue of “Another” again during Backstroke, but not nearly on every track.
After Dear’s Leave Luck to Heaven, his 2003 debut on Spectral Sound/Ghostly International, he released albums under different monikers — False, Audion, Jabberjaw — for Canada’s Plus 8 and Perlon Records. After a few more EPs and by the time Backstroke was ready, Texas-born Dear had made quite a name for himself in techno and any of the subgenres that his sounds have been branded with. Dear deserves this praise for his ability to keep tracks surging with relentless new ideas and crisp, deep beats, but the many vocal tracks on Backstroke keep Dear from moving forward in his areas of strength.
“Another” sets a precedent that he matches with an otherworldly backdrop on all of Backstroke. But his vocals muddy this approach for two glaring reasons: Dear’s not a strong singer, and the lyrics fall short of being cite-worthy, even in an AIM profile. On “Good Girl,” Dear’s vocals are cloaked in his re-appearing emphasis on keeping things sonically inventive. It’s a solid effort to marry his ceaseless need to sing over his varied experiments, but there’s an important ratio issue here.
The ratio of great tracks to mediocre ones normally wouldn’t matter as much, but there are only eight damn tracks on the forty-minute-long Backstroke. There’s gotta be stronger material, there’s just not that much space to fill.